Last Tuesday the body of a young homeless woman was found in a tent in Lynn Woods. A few days before that, I’d bragged about how my adopted hometown was ahead of the curve when it comes to homelessness. That may be true, but death still claims those living on the streets. This means there’s more work to do.
The reason I was bragging is that Lynn recently became the first city in Massachusetts to end veteran homelessness. They were did it by tracking homeless vets using a city registry. They also have a policy that states that every vet found through this tracking method must—I repeat, must—be housed within 30 days. Guess what, boys and girls? It’s worked—with 90 vets off the streets and into housing. (Now that’s real progress Marty.)
There’s little doubt in my mind that some of this success is due to the fact that the city of Lynn takes homelessness seriously. It took a while, of course. And it doesn’t hurt that Lynn’s mayor actually has empathy for the homeless. Imagine that… an elected city official who actually cares about poor people. And she’s a Republican—go figure.
But when someone dies on the street, it puts a sobering effect on all those pats on the back. Most homeless people in Lynn, as in many small cities and towns in Massachusetts, are hidden. It’s not like Boston or Cambridge where you encounter homeless people on nearly every block. I don’t doubt that there are more encampments in Lynn Woods. For many people, homelessness is out of sight and out of mind.
Many cities that deal with homelessness target what’s in front of them. It’s easier than scouring the woods and other hidden areas. For instance, many homeless service providers wouldn’t think about looking in a cemetery for homeless people, but they’re there. It’s even harder to track those who couch serf, and, of course, when cities do their homeless counts, those who are hidden are not counted.
What’s really scary though is how young this woman was (in her 20s). It makes you wonder how many other young people are sleeping in the woods and in other hidden areas, which means families too. So while it’s okay to take a breather and gaze at our successes, the death of this young woman reminds us that we have much more work to do.